Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Foster Dog Family: We Get More Than We Give

(C) Cara Sue Achterberg, Used by Permission
Sitting on my blanket in the grass on the sidelines of a little league game last night, one of the other mom’s glanced at my newest foster dog and said, “I could never foster dogs. I don’t know how you do it.”

“I get much more than I give,” I told her with a shrug, patting the little hound dog snuggled against my side gnawing on her leash. She was probably one of the nicest foster dogs we’ve had. She’s number 44, so that’s a pretty impressive stat.

Fostering dogs for the rescue organization, Operation Paws for Homes has certainly changed our lives, not to mention the 43 dogs and puppies we’ve help rescue and the 43 families who welcomed them into their homes.

Saying good-bye is sometimes tough, and it doesn’t hurt less with time, it just gets easier. I told the other mom what I tell everyone, including my kids when they occasionally protest – if we don’t let this one go, we can’t save another one.

We enjoy the time we have we these dogs and consider it a privilege to help them on their journey which begins when they land at a high-kill shelter in the rural south generally through no fault of their own. They are strays, unwanted dogs, or animals surrendered by owners who are unable or unwilling to care for them.

The vast number of them sit on cement floors behind chainlink barriers because of ignorance and indifference – people who fail to spay or neuter their dogs, underestimate the cost of caring for a pet, or lose interest once the cute puppy becomes a dog that pees on their carpet.

Operation Paws for Homes transports dogs, who would otherwise be euthanized, north to foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania, where we are.

They arrive frightened and unsure after a long van ride. Most are not housebroken, some have never been on a leash, and many have rarely felt a gentle hand or gotten regular meals. The dog we bring home from transport will be a much different dog after a week or two in our home. It never ceases to amaze me what a little love, exercise, and good food can do to transform a terrified, suspicious soul into an exuberant, happy friend.
(C) Cara Sue Achterberg

There was Hadley who was so terrified when she arrived that she wouldn’t leave the back corner of her crate for days. We had to hand feed her and move slowly. I’d never seen a dog so shut-down in my life. Hadley warmed up slowly and eventually landed in a perfect forever home where she is now safe and adored.

And Carla, the 75-pound coonhound who was returned by her owners because she barked too loudly and took up too much space in a home crowded with children. She was so depressed, she lay about like the hound dogs you see in the movies for three weeks, before suddenly shaking off her sadness and becoming one of my best running buddies. We gave her space to mourn and when she began to mend, she offered her unflagging affection.

Texas and Tennessee were two border collies turned in to a shelter by their owner because they were ‘untrainable.’ Whenever anyone raised a hand above waist level the two dogs would hit the ground like they were under fire. After only a week, they were accompanying me in the garden and on runs, happily herding the cats and children, and offering their utmost devotion. I’ve never met such obedient animals.
"Texas and Tennessee"
(C) Cara Sue Achterberg

I have about 44 stories I could tell you of the dogs who have shared our lives in the past 15 months, but the one story that is consistent no matter whether they stayed with us for a few days or four months, is that each of these dogs has enriched our lives.

They’ve given me a sense of daily purpose. I’m a mom and a writer. Too many days, I fall into bed exhausted; having worked from the moment I opened my eyes, but hard-pressed to list anything I’ve actually accomplished, and wondering if anyone has noticed a thing I’ve done today.

Not so since we invited foster dogs into our home. These dogs offer me unconditional, many times unrestrained, love and affection. Their devotion is heart-breaking – the gratitude for the temporary care we offer them is obvious.
I could list the other ways these dogs have enriched our lives – motivating me to exercise every day, entertaining us with their antics and personalities, and introducing me to a new community of people with huge hearts who work tirelessly to rescue dogs.

But I think I’ll leave it at what I said from the start – I get so much more than I ever give.

If you’ve ever considered fostering dogs for a rescue organization, you can learn more at Operation Paws for Homes - Foster FAQ's, and if you’d like to read more stories of fostering dogs, check out my blog at Another Good Dog.

About the Author: 
(C) Cara Sue
Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer and blogger who lives in New Freedom, PA with her family and an embarrassing number of animals. Her first novel, I’m Not Her, was a national bestseller. Her second novel, Girls’ Weekend, was published May 3, 2016. Cara’s nonfiction book, Live Intentionally, is a guide to the organic life filled with ideas, recipes, and inspiration for living a more intentional life. Cara is a prolific blogger, occasional cowgirl, and busy mom whose essays and articles have been published in numerous anthologies, magazines, and websites. Links to her blogs, news about upcoming publications, and pictures of her foster dogs can be found at

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